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The main stories in local news this week continued to focus on the growing outbreak of coronavirus cases at the university. Total cases rose to 25 early in the week, and continued to grow to 34 confirmed cases by the weekend. Three people also tested positive at Fife College. Although new cases at the university continue to appear, NHS Fife said that although there is evidence that some are the result of community transmission, others are believed to be sporadic cases from contact with people outside of Fife.
It’s also worth noting that the number of active cases at the university is lower; approximately 22 cases currently remain active, and 11 people have recovered after successfully completing isolation. So far, all have reported comparatively mild illness.
Senior Students were told on Friday that a total of 121 students are currently in isolation – 108 in halls of residence and 13 in private residences. This figure will include students who are completing isolation after traveling from abroad.
Students will also be relieved to hear that they can go home, following new guidance published by the Scottish Government. Ministers said they did not expect a ‘mass exodus’, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying that it was “absolutely our priority” to ensure students are able to return home for Christmas. She also praised the ‘vast majority’ of students for complying with guidance.
This came after students received criticism earlier in the week following the news that police broke up over 300 house parties last weekend. However, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said analysis suggested that only one in 10 house parties police responded to were linked to students.
The other major Scottish story this week was also Covid-related, after Margaret Ferrier MP became embroiled in controversy. The now-suspended SNP MP travelled from Glasgow to London with symptoms – after taking a test, but before receiving results – then returned home after testing positive. Ms Ferrier has apologised but faces calls to quit from all sides, including from Nicola Sturgeon. She is now being investigated by the Metropolitan Police, following consultation with Police Scotland.
National news largely focused on the coronavirus, but there were also notable business headlines and announcements from the Conservative party’s virtual conference.
The rules surrounding Covid caused multiple controversies this week. The implementation of a 10pm curfew for pubs led to calls for an urgent review, and Parliament narrowly avoided contradicting its own rules outright.
The introduction of stricter rules in North-East England caused confusion throughout the week. First the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, ‘misspoke’ when explaining them, then local leaders across the region began to complain of poor communication with the government. Criticism only increased as the rules were expanded to include Teesside and Liverpool.
The government was forced to make concessions to the House of Commons as backbenchers mounted a rebellion in order to gain a vote on Covid regulations. Up to 100 Conservative MPs had threatened to rebel.
Even with the government’s rules, Covid cases continue to increase; on Saturday, the UK announced more than 10,000 new cases for the first time ever. However, this number was inflated by a technical issue which meant that some cases were not recorded this week, so were instead included in Saturday’s data.
Business focused mainly on job cuts from companies such as Greggs, TSB and Shell. Coronavirus was held largely to blame, with Greggs pointing to the end of the furlough scheme and Shell restructuring to keep pace as the virus accelerates a ‘green drive’. Also, Asda was brought this week by billionaire brothers from Blackburn. The £6.8bn deal with American corporation Walmart puts the supermarket back in British ownership for the first time in two decades.
This year’s Conservative party conference made a few headlines – not least for crashing. Two announcements cut through the noise. Earlier in the week, Boris Johnson announced in a speech on ‘levelling up’ education that adults without A-levels are to be offered free courses. Then Amanda Milling announced that the Conservatives will open a second headquarters in Leeds. The announcement included reference to shoring up the ‘blue wall’; this was met with bemusement on Twitter, as users pointed out that every constituency with ‘Leeds’ in the name was held by Labour.
To close out national news, let’s look at some stand-alone topic headlines:
Environment: Plastic straws and cotton buds banned in England
Immigration: Asylum: UK considered floating barriers in Channel
International news started this week with the headline figure that global cases of Covid-19 passed one million total. The increasing number of cases shows no signs of slowing or stopping.
European news focused largely on the progress of EU-UK trade talks, as the deadline for the two to reach a post-Brexit agreement approaches. Boris Johnson spoke to his EU counterpart, the president of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen, with hopes of compromise. They “agreed the importance” of finding a post-Brexit trade deal, but “significant gaps” remain, No 10 said.
Concurrently, the EU launched legal action against the UK for breaching the Withdrawal Agreement. Ministers acknowledged that the internal market bill breached international law when the legislation was introduced.
The presidential election continues to dominate US headlines; this week two major stories made days of international news.
The week started with news that Donald Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, according to the New York Times. In a normal election cycle, this might have dominated headlines for the week; however, this ‘October Surprise’ was quickly upended by other news.
First, the debate on Tuesday evening between Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden was widely criticised as ‘chaotic’ and ‘bitter’. Both sides resorted to interruptions and insults, although Mr Trump interrupted Biden far more frequently. Still, the debate seemed to hurt Trumps chances – he has consistently trailed Biden in the polls, and analysts suggested the debate will have done little to change that. Indeed, Biden fundraised a record $3.8m in an hour after the debate.
In the aftermath, the commission that oversees US presidential debates said it would change the format for the next two debates, to ensure they were more orderly. This could include measures such as cutting microphones if the candidates try to interrupt each other. Also, Trump rowed back on his debate message to alt-right group the Proud Boys, who he told to ‘stand back and stand by’ when asked to condemn white supremacy.
This was dwarfed on Thursday evening by the news that Donald and Melania Trump tested positive for coronavirus, alongside several aides, senators, and staffers. The President has since been moved to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment, including an experimental cocktail of the drug Remdesivir. Although Trump continues to tweet his recovery, doctors gave conflicting reports of his progress on Saturday.
The big story in Asia this week was renewed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Nearly 100 people died as battles rage on over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Officially part of Azerbaijan, the area has been run by ethnic Armenians as a self-declared republic since 1991. The fighting has been met with international dismay, as the UN Security Council announced emergency talks on Tuesday and Russia offered to host ceasefire talks. Requests for de-escalation were refused by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, a strategic ally of Azerbaijan.